DJ Sue

DJ Sue
Welcome to my blog. I’m a DJ in Second Life and I find myself discussing the music I’m playing with many of those in attendance at my shows. Unfortunately, when I am busy DJing, I can’t participate and discuss the music as fully as I would like. I’m hoping this blog can help change that. Look here before my set to see if I might be playing something interesting today or maybe after to see if discussion on a topic might continue. You are invited to join in the conversation and leave comments.

Friday, February 17, 2017

The Moody Blues

SUE’S SUNDAY SOJOURN: Each week I will showcase a particular artist or band during my entire two hour set.  Each week, prior to the set, there will be a blog post where I will write about my memories, favorite stories or share other interesting tidbits.  The idea here is not to tell the story of the band or play two hours of their greatest hits.  The idea behind Sue’s Sunday Sojourn will be to spend time with Sue, down in her music vault.  As she puts together the set, she will reminisce and share special memories.  “I remember when this came out,” or, “I recall hearing this for the first time and I thought…”  She might share little known facts, favorite memories, fun stories or maybe even some personal experiences. 

The sets will have plenty of the big hits but be ready for a few obscure tunes that may be her personal favorites.  She will probably include a few rarities or possibly unreleased material, along with other sundry curios.  So join her every Sunday night from 7-9 as she lets you into her world.

The Moody Blues

The classic lineup: (l to r) Mike Pinder, Justin Hayward, Ray Thomas, Graeme Edge and John Lodge

It has been said that the Moody Blues were the smallest symphony orchestra ever to exist.  During their heyday in the 60’s and the 70’s, you could supposedly take any instrument in the orchestra and one of them could play it with some degree of proficiency.  With the process of overdubbing, they could each play multiple instruments on each song.  The release of their Days of Future Past album in 1967 drove home the point by being what has been described as the perfect fusion of Classical music with Rock.  They didn’t actually play all of the instruments on the album, the London Festival Orchestra provided the additional instruments, but they did demonstrate that all instruments in the orchestra could be used in a modern Rock production.  This was the birth of Progressive Rock.

The band had changed considerably since its first album had come out two years before, the Magnificent Moodies (1965), which was more of a blues record than a rock and roll one.  “Moody Blues” was actually an accurate description of the music on this first record.  The album made it to #5 in the UK and the single, Go Now, made #1.  It was released in America with a different cover, a different title and a few track changes but failed to chart.  (See DJ Sue’s Vault below.)

In 1966, the Moody Blues fell apart.  Bassist, Clint Warwick quit the band, soon followed by guitarist/vocalist, Denny Laine, who had sung the lead on the single, Go Now.  Laine would go on to do some solo work and be a member of Ginger Baker’s Air Force before becoming a founding member of Wings.  Paul & Linda McCartney and Denny Laine were the only consistent members of Wings throughout its long successful existence.

They reformed and the classic lineup of the Moody Blues was in place by the end of the year.  The following year, as I mentioned previously, they released Days of Future Past.  It was one of the first successful concept albums along with Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, released earlier that same year.  The idea behind the record was to musically portray a typical day in a human life.  It didn’t matter if it was a modern person, a medieval one or someone who lived in ancient Egypt.  There is a certain commonality to the day, like getting up in the morning with the whole day ahead of you, getting into the swing of things as you begin to do what you need to during the morning, or the midday repast as you rest and eat lunch, or the joining of the afternoon grind and the final push before the slowdown of the day leading to quitting time.  The album continued with the relief felt at the end of the workday and the evening time, where we spend time unwinding after the long day or in pursuit of more personal things.  Finally, the album ended with one of their biggest hits, Nights in White Satin, which epitomized the night time when we would drift off to sleep with the hope of a new day for tomorrow.

I worked as an “on air” DJ in the late 70’s and early 80’s and the most interesting thing about radio is you never see or know who is in the audience at any given moment.  You often wonder if by some coincidence that no one might be currently tuned in and you might be broadcasting to no one.  Maybe there are thousands listening to your every word and loving you, or possibly thinking “you suck.”  I would wonder if I ever played a record by a famous artist and they happened to be tuned in to hear me play their song.  Because of this unknown factor, whenever I had a chance to talk to a listener, I would jump at it and one day someone called on the “listener line” to make a Moody Blues request and share a story he had about me and the Moody Blues!

After I worked at the station for a while, I was assigned a regular slot on weeknights from midnight to 2 AM.  This was back in the day when most radio stations signed off for the evening with “This is WXYX signing off…”  There were certain things the FCC required that you include, like your frequency, output power, location, etc.  These sign-offs were prerecorded and the DJ just had to pop a tape in and play it.  I didn’t like that and I did something few DJs ever did.  I did the sign-off myself and soon it was my signature to end around 2 AM every night by playing Nights in White Satin and reading the sign-off over Ray Thomas’s flute solo towards the end of the song.  This listener told me how he would listen to me every night as he lay in bed unwinding in his dark bedroom and he knew I was about to end when he heard Nights in White Satin begin.  He told me how the flute solo would fade slightly to the background (which I did do) and he would hear my voice every night doing the sign-off. (below is a link to a typical radio station sign-off of the day, very similar to what I did.)

My bit would end with, “…Please join us and tune in when we come back on the air at 6 AM.  This is [Susan Mowadeng] wishing everyone a wonderful night.”

The flute solo would fade back up to the normal volume and the song would soon continue.

And I love you,
Yes I love you,
Oh how I love you,
Oh how I love you…”

The song finally ends with a poem…

Breathe deep the gathering gloom
Watch lights fade from every room
Bedsitter people look back and lament
Another day's useless energy spent
Impassioned lovers wrestle as one
Lonely man cries for love and has none
New mother picks up and suckles her son
Senior citizens wish they were young
Cold hearted orb that rules the night
Removes the colors from our sight
Red is grey and yellow white
But we decide which is right
And which is an Illusion?

Then there is a final flourish of music, along with the final fading gong, and he described listening to the silence or the dead air on the carrier wave.  He’d wait for about 20 seconds and then the carrier would give way to static and he would reach over and turn his radio off.  He was right; from the time I stopped the last record to the time I would hit the remote master power switch to our transmitter, located over a mile away, was about 20 seconds.

He made a request, which is what the listener line was for, and of course he wanted to hear Nights in White Satin, which of course I played for him.  I spoke over the opening notes of the song as it began. “Now I got a special song going out to a very special listener.  I wanted you to know that you made this day special for me.  Thank you.”  I think of that caller every time I hear that song, even today.  I think that one encounter is the major impetus for me being a DJ today in Second Life and my need to share music.  Ending at 2 AM and doing the sign-off myself over the Moody Blues became my signature and may have been a precursor to my needing to start each set with a signature theme song today.

The song, Tuesday Afternoon, is also from this classic record, though the track listing on the album has it as “Forever Afternoon (Tuesday?).”  Again, considering the concept of the entire album, the title makes sense.  It could be any afternoon in time and maybe Tuesday is a typical afternoon.  On all “best of,” “Greatest Hits,” “boxed sets,” etc., it is now referred to as, “Tuesday Afternoon.”

With Days of Future Past being released in 1967, the classic line-up of the Moody Blues was in place.  There were the original members, Mike Pinder (keyboards), Ray Thomas (flute/woodwinds), Graeme Edge (drums/percussion) and the newcomers, Justin Hayward (guitar) and John Lodge (bass).  They would come out with six more studio albums over the next five years.  Each of these was a masterpiece in its own right and rank among my favorites.

These albums all had songs that received a lot of airplay and were popular with our listeners and, as disc-jockeys, we loved to play them for our listeners.  Despite this, Moody Blues’ records could be bane of our existence too.  Each of these albums, like Days of Future Past, would go from one song right into the next.  There was no real break and often you had to guess where one song ended and the next began musically.

When we cued a record, we would use one of two techniques to start it.  The most common way was to listen to it on the cue channel in your headphones as you put the needle down and spun the record backwards and forwards, finding the exact spot where the music started.  You’d then carefully back it up about half a revolution or a little more. As the previous song was fading, you’d start up this new record and the half turn would allow it to get up to speed mechanically so it was at the right speed when the music started, else you might slur the music as it started up.  There was a second method that required more skill, but we could control the exact moment the music of the second record started.  We’d cue it as above, but only turn it back an eighth of a revolution or less.  When it came close to the time to start it, we would reach over and with using a finger of one hand, we’d lift the edge up slightly, careful not to disturb the needle.  We’d start the turntable and allow it to come up to speed as it turned below the record we were holding stationary with one finger on its edge.  Just before the moment we wanted it to start, we would pull our finger way, placing the record on the already spinning platter and it would start instantly at the right speed.

None of this worked with Moody Blues records so each DJ had to decide where they thought one particular song ended or began and use fades.  We each had our own opinions of this and a good example is Tuesday Afternoon, which could be considered to end at several points starting from 4:08 after it started to 5:06, almost a full minute depending on which parts of the orchestration you considered part of the end of Tuesday Afternoon and which parts belonged to the next song, (Evening) Time to Get Away.  Again, each DJ had their own thoughts and opinions, so there was little consistency.  For this reason we often loved Moody Blues singles because this took the guess work out it and we could use the regular techniques described above, but sometimes it compromised things in other ways, so they were a mixed blessing.

It had been two years since their last record when the Moody Blues announced they were breaking up in 1974.  They went on to other works and solo projects.  In 1978, the complete classic line-up reformed and the Moodies released their first album in over six years, Octave.  This would be followed by many more.

What made them so extraordinary was their ability to bring in so many orchestrations by overdubbing and using additional performers to make their records so wonderful.  This also made them basically suck in concert, since each member couldn’t play several parts at the same time.  They did their best but most of us felt the sound was lacking.  Some bands, like Ten Years After or the MC5 are best heard live, but the Moody Blues soon had a reputation of best being heard in the studio, on the record.  This all changed later in their career as they figured out that they could take the parts written for the symphony and play the concerts WITH them intact, often using a series of local orchestras on tour.  Suddenly, Tuesday Afternoon and Nights in White Satin (and later songs) would come alive on stage as they were meant to be performed.  Sunday night, I’ll be ending with Nights in White Satin, of course, but I will play a live version of it recorded in 1969 so you can see what I mean.  I speak from experience and I’ve seen the Moody Blues five times live in concert, more than any other band.  Next would be Crosby, Stills and Nash, whom I’ve seen three.

If you recall, I had mentioned that Nights in White Satin ended the album, Days of Future Past, with a poem.  The album also started with a poem but it was really the same poem and was cleverly divided by taking the last few lines that ended the day in Nights in White Satin and use them as the start of the new day at the beginning of the album.  After the repeated lines, it continued.

Pinprick holes in a colorless sky
Let insipid flickers of light pass by
The mighty light of ten thousand suns
Challenges infinity and is soon gone
Night time, to some a brief interlude
To others the fear of solitude.

Brave Helios, wake up your steeds
Bring the warmth the countryside needs

They would usually start their concerts with this poem and it would nicely frame the show as they ended with Nights in White Satin and finish with the other part of the poem.

I was in the audience on 4 September 1999 in Holmdel, NJ when they performed live with the New Jersey State Symphony Orchestra.  The highlight was Ray Thomas doing Legend of a Mind, sometimes erroneously referred to as Timothy Leary’s Dead.  It’s a cut from their 1968 album, In Search of the Lost Chord.  The song was written by Thomas; he sang the lead vocals and it featured his flute very prominently.  In the middle of the concert, Ray Thomas took center stage and the rest of Moodies retreated to being his backup band for a bit.  It was an unbelievable performance as he sang this song and he performed an amazing flute solo with it.  It remains one of my fondest concert memories of all time.  On Sunday I’ll play a live version of this song from a few years earlier but is every bit as I remembered the 1999 performance.  I listen to it and suddenly I’m watching Ray on stage once again as I'm transported back to that night.  Unfortunately, that show in 1999 would be the last time I would see the Moody Blues in concert and it would be one of the last times that Ray Thomas would perform that song live.  I consider myself blessed to have been there that night.  Over the next few years, he would cut back on his participation in touring and then finally retire due to health issues.

DJ Sue’s Vault…

I mentioned their first album above, the one that sounded completely different and was released in 1965.  In the UK it was released as the Magnificent Moodies but in the United States it was released as Go Now – The Moody Blues #1, a reference to the single that appeared on the record.  After the success of several albums, in 1970 Deram Records tried reissuing the album again in America with yet another new title, In the Beginning.  This version also failed to chart.  Above is my copy of the vinyl and as you can see, it is a pre-1970 pressing of the original American cover, Go Now.

The Magnificent Moodies and In the Beginning (click to enlarge)


Sue’s Sunday Sojourn is about telling my story and in this installment I think I have successfully woven my story with that of the Moody Blues.  I really enjoyed sharing these memories with you and sharing them has touched my very soul deeply.  Today I let you into my world as a broadcast disc jockey years ago and hope you understand me a little bit better now.

On Sunday night, I have a few Easter eggs planted in my set for those of you who have read this blog post to find.  The Easter eggs will make you go, “Aha!  I know why she put that there,” or “I understand the significance of that.”  They will happen at the beginning, the end and in between.  Join me Sunday night as I share my passion with you.

Ray Thomas does Legend of a Mind later in life

1 comment:

  1. A group that has stood the test of time and is legendary for it's sounds. I am sure the set will be every bit as good as their concert would be. :) They have always been one of my all time favorite groups.